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Snowy Plover

Charadrius nivosus

Length: 6 to 7 inches Wingspan: 13 inches Seasonality: Rare migrant, summer breeder
ID Keys: Lightest of the plovers, thin bill, gray legs, incomplete breast band

Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosusThe Snowy Plover is the palest of the North American plovers, and also the smallest.  Inland, they usually nest on open salt flats or other similarly barren areas.  On the coastlines, however, they nest on sandy beaches, where their nests are often disturbed by human visitors.  As a consequence, they are considered threatened in many coastal locations.  Their normal summer breeding ground on the interior of the continent only reach northward to Kansas, and they are thus rare visitors to South Dakota.  However, in recent years, very small numbers have been found in South Dakota in summer, with confirmed breeding.

Habitat: Prefers very open habitats with little vegetation, especially dry salt flats and sand beaches.

Diet: Insects make up the majority of the diet for those birds nesting inland.  Those along the coasts feed on crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, and insects.

Behavior: Feeds in typical plover fashion, running several steps with intermittent pauses, grabbing food items when spotted.   

Nesting: Normal summer breeding grounds were thought to extend only to northern Kansas.  However, in the past few years, there has been confirmed breeding within South Dakota.  The nest is a simple scrape in the ground, lined with bits of vegetation and pebbles.  The female lays 3 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  After the eggs hatch, both parents help tend to the young, but the young leave the nest almost immediately and find their own food.

Song: Whistling pee-e-eep.

Migration: Summers along the Pacific and Gulf coasts, in and around salt lakes and alkaline flats in the western interior of the U.S., and on the southern plains.  Those on the coasts are mostly permanent residents, but those in the interior move to the coastlines in the winter. 

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access interactive eBird map of Snowy Plover sightings

Similar Species: Piping Plover, Semipalmated Plover

Status: Declining in many areas, and considered threatened in many locations.  Disturbance of their nests on open beaches causes many nests to fail.  However, on a global level the IUCN still lists the Snowy Plover as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Snowy Plover

2) WesternSnowyPlover - Resource for recovery of Western Snowy Plover

3) Audubon Guide - Snowy Plover

Photo Information: Photo taken by Steve Berardi - May 9th, 2009 - California - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Snowy Plover
South Dakota Status: Prior to the 2000s, there was only one recorded sighting in South Dakota (SDOU, 2001).  However, in the mid-2000s, there were a number of individuals sighted, with confirmed breeding in the central part of the state.

Additional Snowy Plover Photos (coming soon!)